By: Razanne Chatila
Three rebel groups in northern Mali have agreed to merge on Monday, which will take effect in 45 days, in an ongoing effort to create a peace process with the government. The three main groups, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) have signed a deal as part of this peace deal with government in Burkina Faso in June that the three groups said they would disarm.
Although this is a step-in-right-direction, the country still remains unstable.
Just this Sunday, two French journalists were found dead in the northern Mali region of Kidal. They had been “coldly assassinated” by militants. In response, France vowed to help up security measures. According to CNN, radio journalists Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont were abducted on Saturday morning after interviewing a member of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad Tuareg separatist group in northern Mali. Their bodies were found on Saturday by a French patrol 12 km outside Kidal, the birthplace of a Tuareg uprising last year that plunged Mali into chaos, leading to a coup in the capital Bamako and the occupation of the northern half of the country by militants linked to al-Qaeda.
Arrests were made on Tuesday for at least 12 people. Although finding out who carried out the killings is still unclear, Al Jazeera reported that Malian government officials pointed the finger at MNLA, a Tuareg separatist movement that is in nominal control of much of the north of Mali. Northern Mali, since 2003, has also acted as a rear base for al-Qaeda’s North African branch, which has used the country’s vast deserts north of Kidal to train fighters, amass arms and prepare for war. They have also funded their operations by kidnapping Westerners, especially French nationals. Not only that, according to global intelligence unit Stratfor, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has carried out at least 18 successful kidnappings of foreigners in the past decade, netting at least $89 million in ransom payments.
This reflects a worrisome trend on how rebel groups are fighting in Mali. By using violence, kidnapping and killings to gain attention, the extent of their actions becomes a gamble in the security of not only their country but anyone in this area, citizens and foreigners alike. In a recent article by The Christian Science Monitor it stated that, “Criminal groups and jihadis operating in the Sahel (including northern Mali) have grown fat from the ransoms paid for the release of European kidnap victims. Hence the kidnapping of the two French journalists fits a pattern.” Many nations including the U.S. and Britain have policy and practices in place such as never paying the ransom that makes their citizens “less attractive to kidnappers.”
Nonetheless, the lure of using kidnapping as a segway into negotiations is a disturbing reality. Not only does there need to be global support, but also regional help in coming together to help neighboring states. More action and awareness on this nation is needed to find a lasting solution to Mali’s turbulent state.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.